Are we seeing a change of the political terms of trade?
When the chief secretary to the treasury, Andy Burnham (right) accepted an invitation to go on Newsnight on the day John Redwood’s Tory policy review was published he must have thought that his task was going to be easy.
Just chuck in a few hand grenades about Cameron being forced to the right and then make the standard attacks on “unfunded Tory tax cuts”.
Alas it was not to be. For Burnham, the 37 year old Cambridge graduate who always looks pleased with himself, found that he was the subject of a grilling from Jeremy Paxman that was of such a ferocity that it almost ranked alongside the famous Michael Howard interview all those years ago.
For instead of being given the opportunity to attack the Redwood plans Burnham was repeatedly pressed to give assurances that nothing at all in the document would ever be adopted by Labour – particularly the inheritance tax proposal. At one stage the minister had to resort to admitting that he had not even read the full document which only added to his discomfort.
It struck me while re-watching this on the net a couple of night’s ago that something significant was happening. That the standard Brown approach of closing down debates by stealing popular policies from his opponents might not be so easy in the future.
The notion of Gord the policy thief is starting to gain credence. We saw that line being used by the Sun in its editorial on the inheritance tax plan and increasingly commentators are making the same observation. For once people have noticed what you are doing then it is much harder to do it. The Brown government might need to be a lot more subtle in the language it uses.
If Paxman is ever allowed to interview Brown you can imagine the Newsnight presenter scowling and saying “Has Labour got ANY policies of its own?”.
Burnham’s Newsnight bruising might also affect the thinking on an October general election, if that is indeed what is being planned. I remain unconvinced that Gord will take the risk and my betting reflects that.